Don Wilkinson - Farmers Weekly

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Don Wilkinson

8 November 1996

Don Wilkinson

Don Wilkinson runs a 121ha (300-acre) family farm near Darlington, Co Durham. He rears and finishes 500 black-and-white bulls on a silage-beef system. Some 90% of feed is home-grown, including cereals from the farms 60ha (148 acres) of arable land.

AT the beginning of the BSE crisis I was doubtful my crystal ball was giving me the right signals – the latest 20 bulls sold on Oct 14 shows how wrong it was.

Average price was 163p (90p live), down 27% on Oct 1995, a total of £4300 for the 20. The 20 bulls were over 18 months old instead of 15 months, were 110kg heavier and worth £100 more. That will cover feed and straw, leaving nothing to cover overheads.

In the future, farm assurance will have to be taken aboard, but unless it is strictly policed and anyone found undermining the scheme exposed for what they are, we will all be tarred with the same brush. Traceability will be demanded and there is much negotiating to be done on the new system of tagging. Farmers need tags for management and the two must be combined or we will end up with animals looking like Christmas trees.

In the rush to line the pockets of the electronics industry it must not be forgotten that, under the present system, all our 400 bulls bought a year ago are, and have been for many years, traceable back to the farms where they were born.

With the conference season in full swing, I am preparing my paper for the BGS Conference entitled "Grass and Forage for Cattle of High Genetic Merit" to be held at Malvern on Nov 25, 26.

Then there was talking to the public on National Beef Day (Oct 26) when my local NFU branch, Darlington, together with Barnard Castle, took to the street with stands in Darlington town centre, offering prizes for children and meat vouchers for families.

Local butchers and the meat trade were involved providing money-off vouchers in the local press. Talking to the public is reassuring, most are still eating beef.

It would be interesting to know why German and French consumption is still well below that in Britain? Is their public even more suspicious than ours of their governments handling of the BSE crisis – one can only assume so.n

AT the beginning of the BSE crisis I was doubtful my crystal ball was giving me the right signals – the latest 20 bulls sold on Oct 14 shows how wrong it was.

Average price was 163p (90p live), down 27% on Oct 1995, a total of £4300 for the 20. The 20 bulls were over 18 months old instead of 15 months, were 110kg heavier and worth £100 more. That will cover feed and straw, leaving nothing to cover overheads.

In the future, farm assurance will have to be taken aboard, but unless it is strictly policed and anyone found undermining the scheme exposed for what they are, we will all be tarred with the same brush. Traceability will be demanded and there is much negotiating to be done on the new system of tagging. Farmers need tags for management and the two must be combined or we will end up with animals looking like Christmas trees.

In the rush to line the pockets of the electronics industry it must not be forgotten that, under the present system, all our 400 bulls bought a year ago are, and have been for many years, traceable back to the farms where they were born.

With the conference season in full swing, I am preparing my paper for the BGS Conference entitled "Grass and Forage for Cattle of High Genetic Merit" to be held at Malvern on Nov 25, 26.

Then there was talking to the public on National Beef Day (Oct 26) when my local NFU branch, Darlington, together with Barnard Castle, took to the street with stands in Darlington town centre, offering prizes for children and meat vouchers for families.

Local butchers and the meat trade were involved providing money-off vouchers in the local press. Talking to the public is reassuring, most are still eating beef.

It would be interesting to know why German and French consumption is still well below that in Britain? Is their public even more suspicious than ours of their governments handling of the BSE crisis – one can only assume so.n

In the future farm assurance will have to be taken on board and be strictly policed, says Don Wilkinson.

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Don Wilkinson

29 March 1996

Don Wilkinson

SPRING appears to be taking two steps forward and three backward at the moment. A month ago ground conditions were almost suitable for applying fertiliser. This week the farm lane was blocked with snow and today, Mar 15, it is more like November. If T-sums could go backwards then ours certainly have over the last month. If we are to achieve full use of the spring nitrogen, and are to start silage on May 10, then we only have one week to turn from winter to spring.

We have successfully weaned our 200th calf since starting our experiment of weaning calves at three weeks. We use a dry feed pellet containing milk powder, manufactured by SCA of Thirsk, North Yorks. With milk powder consumption at 5kg a head and pellet consumption at 30kg to six weeks, costs are similar to conventional six-week weaning, feeding 15-20kg milk powder. However, there was a big saving in time spent feeding calves. This left valuable time for the important task of checking calf health status, ensuring health problems are stopped before they begin. A big step in calf rearing and the first major change since five-week weaning was introduced over 30 years ago.

After an early morning start, using the car as a snow plough, John and I travelled to Stoneleigh for the Beef 96 event where I was speaking. Visitors were standing at all the seminars. Perhaps a blueprint for the future – seminars with trade stands?

With over 50% of UK beef coming from the dairy herd, we appear to be more in tune with cost of production along with the other producers using dairy beef calves. Beef breeders appear to be concentrating on performance. Their next target has to be cost of achieving that performance. That is what will keep the beef industry in profit.

Having renegotiated our overdraft limit, we have started a vaccination program against some of the more common forms of pneumonia, with Imuresp and Ris-poval. Lets hope our vet Paul Roger, is right, and this policy will break the cycle of older bulls infecting young calves.n

Don Wilkinson will now wean calves at three weeks of age instead of five thanks to a dry feed pellet containing milk powder manufactured by SCA.

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Don Wilkinson

1 March 1996

Don Wilkinson

IN FARMING, it is sometimes confusing which year we are in – as we have calendar years, trading years, tax year and nature years. As the days lengthen, it is natures year that farmers feel most in tune with.

Now that the spring flowers are appearing, it is time to take stock of how last years management coped with the weather and plan appropriate action for the coming year. A question to be asked – is the farm making best use of EU support payments?

Silage stocks appear to be more than adequate, for two reasons. First, we are experimenting with different amounts of wheat in the bull diets. Second, we overreacted to what appeared to be low silage stocks due to last years drought. As with grazed stock, who appear to perform on very little during a dry year, our bulls prove it is energy/kg dry matter that is important.

The first task when ground conditions allow, will be to apply some fertiliser, 100kg/acre of a 27:5:5 would be half of the total required for first cut silage. Talking of fertiliser, with price hypes and possible shortages, one of our better moves last autumn was the purchase of our spring fertiliser.

As dairy farmers calving patterns have tightened, our policy of buying calves every month of the year just isnt feasible any more. With the result that pressure on calf rearing accommodation is at its peak in the spring and autumn. At the moment, we have 320 calves under six months old, of these, almost 200 are under three months old.

In a recent "reshuffle" son-in-law John has been promoted to feeding the growing and finishing bulls – a job which requires attention to detail and accurate recording. Five rations are fed to 500 bulls in 15 pens. Feed is weighed to monitor dry matter intakes of each pen, and to ensure maximum intakes, every trough needs to be empty for up to four hours every day. The reshuffle has left me with the post of assistant to the calf feeder! &#42

Experiments with different inclusion rates of wheat in bull diets at Newton Ketton farm have helped silage stocks to remain adequate.

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Don Wilkinson

8 December 1995

Don Wilkinson

IT IS the meeting season. I cannot really report on what has been happening on the farm this month because I have hardly been around for more than the odd day.

If I have not been away talking at meetings, I have been away listening at meetings and when I was at home I had to sit at the computer either writing for the well-known farming magazine or replying to impending livestock transport legislation.

As deputy vice chairman of County NFU, I have been doing the rounds of the local branch AGMs. The one thing concerning livestock farmers is the amount of legislation being piled on the livestock industry, the latest of which is the Welfare of Animals during Transport .

The NFU along with 600 other organizations, ranging from the Parrot Society to the British Independent Grocers Association, has received the MAFF draft regulations on animal transport. What these two and many other organisations have to do with, or know about, live animal transport is quite beyond comprehension. Hopefully the Ministry will take the line that those who spend a lifetime looking after and caring for animals 24 hours a day, 365 days a year will know more about animal welfare than anyone.

Government repeatedly tells us it will only act on good scientific research. Research proves that after loading, animals quickly settle to their new surroundings. Even after 24 hours in transit there is no evidence of any deterioration in their welfare. With this evidence, shorter journeys with rest and unloading periods will lead to poorer animal welfare!

Grass is still growing over six weeks after taking fourth cut on Oct 10, the autumn grazing ewes are trimming the grass seeds without doing any damage. I am not sure if the damage in a wet year cancels out the grazing benefits. The late drilled wheat is only just showing through, too dry and too late to give good yields.

To end the month as it began, just as I was about to so some real farming, Julie insists on dragging me around Smithfield FarmTech. &#42

Evidence suggests shorter journeys with rest and unloading periods will lead to poorer animal welfare!

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Don Wilkinson

26 May 1995

Don Wilkinson

WHAT a relief to have all the silage clamped, wilted to 40% dry matter in two days, the clamp filled in one day, and sugars high and "D" values even higher in the ensiled material.

Well, that was the plan by May 12. Unfortunately, the weather had different ideas. On the planned cutting date it rained and the forecast predicted even more. And for the past seven days weve had a bitterly cold north-east wind. Now the forecast is for frost at night with hail showers.

Grass sample analysis showed low sugar and "D" values, and high protein and nitrogen levels. With cold weather and little sun, the grass just hadnt used all the nitrogen. The analysis also showed high sulphur levels, almost at a point where copper absorption could be depressed. We have never applied sulphur. This result highlights the risk of acting without an analysis. If fertiliser with added sulphur had been purchased we could have had double trouble, extra cost and extra problems.

Julies luck has run out. After three years of trouble-free calf rearing, and thoroughly cleaning all the calf houses and resting them, yet again we have contracted rotavirus. She adds: "Wanted – 400 black-and-white bull calves, guaranteed to have received colostrum with mums vaccinated against rotavirus".

In an attempt to raise the sale weight of the bulls, we are experimenting with feeding young bulls from six months old, with silage plus only 1kg of concentrates. Concentrates saved will be fed in the final stages to give a quicker finish. Close monitoring will be needed or we could be left with some black-and-white hat racks.

For the second time I have had the pleasure of judging the regional round of the Trident Feeds "Enterprising Student of the Year Award". The award is given to the best student/s who have carried out research into feeding sugar beet products. Results are offered both as written reports and poster presentations, before interviews by the judges. It is enlightening to see young people being encouraged in this way. I only hope that there is an opening for them, as so many doors seem to be closing for young new entrants to farming.

Julie Wilkinson seeks 400 Rotavirus – free calves after recent problems at Newton Ketton Farm.

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Don Wilkinson

28 April 1995

Don Wilkinson

ITS Good Friday, weve had continuous sunshine all week, the grass is growing like mad, and we are on course for silage making on the next Bank Holiday (May 8). Its hard to think that two weeks ago we had snow for two days!

With no "turn-out", we need silage to last until the new first-cut is ready to feed, and it looks as though we will have some carry-over again this year. I cannot believe how our stocking rates are improving since feeding high dry matter silage.

What with three British Grassland Society meetings and my NFU commitments (I am chairman of the county livestock committee and county deputy vice-chairman), I seem to have been off the farm more than I have been on it this past month. Julie has been insisting for a while that I am only part-time, but I tell her it is "what you put into the hours and not the hours put in", that matters. Seriously though, I should not accept any more committee work. But time and effort is required if, among other things, we are not to be buried by the bureaucrats under mountains of paper. For example, pig producers have to fill in their names and addresses 10 times to move pigs between their own farms.

Luckily, our farming system has been streamlined over the years, and we have been rearing and finishing black-and-white calves continuously for over 30 years. So Julie and John can manage, even with over 600 bulls on the farm, especially now that we have some part-time help from a local arable farmer, Chris McLaren.

Ports have been authorised to continue with live exports, but unfortunately the bad publicity will do farmings image no good. It would be much better if export markets being looked into by MLC could provide outlets for the extra beef.

Having "wheelied" all the muck heaps and set-aside etc, its back to the office to check re-numbered fields, check areas, check printout sheets, check the rules, check the sheets, check the rules. At last the IACS forms are completed! &#42

Commitments to the British Grassland Society and the NFU mean Don Wilkinson has spent more time off the farm than on it this month.

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